Finding The Missing Five Million

I haven’t remembered everything yet, but as I lay on the couch in Joey’s apartment, it’s starting to come back to me.

Which is fucking awesome, since everyone I meet expects me to give them instructions and guidance. They also keep giving me handfuls of $20 bills – when we walked home from Telegraph, it’s like I was money magnet. I had to use the red and yellow Amoeba bag to carry it all.

There’s no easy way to explain what’s going on, or how I can even think these thoughts and have them appear on this blog, so let me just start with the 4th of July.

Right on cue, while we made the final adjustments to our outfits, Miranda appeared in my bedroom back in Ikebukuro. She was dressed as Kirino Kousaka from Oreimo (俺の妹がこんなに可愛いわけがない, My Little Sister Can’t Be This Cute) complete with white and blue sailor suit uniform and brownish orange hair. It clearly wasn’t a wig – she must have psychically grown out and dyed her hair while getting dressed.

Her whole getup was a private joke between Miranda, Aurora and I – she was obsessed with the light novels and anime all during Variant 237, so much so that she followed the fictional characters on Twitter. In retrospect, I think it was her subconscious commentary on her relationship to the Collective – she had to hide her affiliation with the ultimate otaku outfit from her mother, but her brother Joey eventually found her out.

I had already out played her – I was dressed as Kuroneko from the same series, with a highly accurate black gothic lolita outfit that I had specially made as soon as I was “invited” to the show. I even had on the purple-red roses headband – I have to say I looked even better than Tsubomi in that Oreimo porn DVD that came out in March. Hey – no judgement at the end of the world, alright?

Aurora was more meta – she was dressed in her Mt. Shasta drag, one of the granola and rainbows outfits she used to stalk Miranda in up in Portland. Her official job from Ai was just to find out if Miranda had woken up to her powers yet, but Aurora really got into the role play. Monday night she had fully reverted back to her original appearance, no longer showing any physical traits from me or Die Database. Her long blond hair and blue eyes really brought out her inner elf, as did the elaborately embroidered tan peasant dress with rainbow accents.

When Miranda appeared, she didn’t say a word, but she did do a double take when she first noticed our cosplay. I think she was actually pissed off that we had anticipated her big entrance, and so she just quickly folded us across time and space to Berkeley.

Not that we went that far – just from one version of 19:00 hours on the 4th to an earlier time zone at 19:00. At that point, I still hadn’t quite figured out how she was using the Trouble Twins’ powers unaided – I just had a vague assumption that she somehow killed them and stole their powers in the future.

It was still light out, and we could see the cars rushing by on Highway 80, over past the Aquatic Park. Beyond some trees, I could partially see the Bay, and bits of San Francisco on the horizon. The warehouse itself was pretty boring – I was expecting it to be unoccupied, but through a few windows there were some boxes and other signs of storage. What was far less boring was who was waiting for us by the door – Jenny, sitting on the steps and leaning against the red metal door.

I almost didn’t recognize her, since she didn’t look pissed at all. In fact, she seemed absolutely elated, and she kept moving her hands around in her army surplus jacket, so it kept flapping open and shut. When I got a bit closer, I could see that the sleeves and shoulders of the jacket were covered with patches from the old pre-Collective bands – one from every band I knew, like Potato Power or Slow Cone, to a few I had never heard of. Her hair was dyed fire engine red, with an inch wide navy blue stripe cutting between her eyes. She looked at us, smiled with ample teeth, and then went back to waggling her jacket.

“Are you ready for some football?” That was Helena, and she and Cassandra suddenly appeared behind us. Cassandra, wearing a skirt made out of various striped neckties, and a blue, gold and white cheerleader jersey from Fairview High – number double zero. She was rolling a large, hot pink suitcase behind her. Helena was much more formal, dressed in shorts made out of black slacks that were roughly cut off at the knee, and one of those tuxedo t-shirts, accented with a real bow tie. She still had her eyes, and I wasn’t sure if that was a good sign or not.

“Ladies, you have to be more specific!” Miranda took on an accusative air, folding her arms just like Kirino would. “Are we talking about real football, or American football?”

“Touché.” Cassandra put down the suitcase on the sidewalk, then crouched, bending her knees slightly. Helena ran behind her, and reached between her legs. “Hike!”

Suddenly, another version of the Trouble Twins appeared in front of them, holding a clearly shaken Kaia between them. Helena had on her pink ball gown, with bandages over her eyes. Cassandra had on her glowing wig and shiny jumpsuit. Kaia was wearing the blood stained, white dress she had the last time I saw her, before she was dragged away from the storage unit in Munich. She was still crying and panting a bit, like she had been hyperventilating.

“Go on, make nice and kick the ball!” Miranda motioned at blind Helena, who grimaced, and then pushed Kaia’s back, so she stumbled forward into cheerleader Cassandra’s arms. “See, that wasn’t so bad. Par for the course. Now get back to work.”

Cassandra with the glowing wig smiled at Miranda, and then waved at Jenny before folding away with her sister.

I couldn’t help myself – I rushed forward and took Kaia away from Cassandra. The twins backed off, and Kaia took one look at me and slapped me silly.

“Fuck you! Fuck!” Her left eye started to twitch, and she punched me in the stomach. I fell down and rolled into some bushes next to the warehouse.

She rushed over to me in a blur, and put her hands around my neck.

“Do you even understand what you’ve done? What you’re about to do?” Her grip tightened, and burned. “At the Fifth Event, everyone agreed that you have to go, but I didn’t think I’d get the pleasure of seeing you off.” Her bald head started to steam.

It wasn’t Kaia speaking. S.OS? I still don’t know what had possessed her that night.

“Stop it already!” Jenny, still sitting at the door, with Cassandra at her side. “You are totally out of line!”

Kaia let me breathe again, but still gave me a hard punch to the chest before she backed off.

“I’m so sorry about that, Tokie. You’re an honored guest and should be treated as such.” She stood up, and touched Cassandra on the left shoulder. “Speaking of which…”

Cassandra opened the door to the warehouse, and then everything goes hazy. I can still get flashes of those plastic robot sculptures, along with Satomi-style holograms – of the history of the Collective? It’s like it’s on the tip of my mind, but I just can get at it.

Joey has been at me all day, ever since I woke up. He’s convinced that I had some special message for him, something terribly important that will explain how everything went to hell.

The only thing I’m crystal clear about is that I’m no longer in Variant 237, and my etching is of the same hybrid style as Gabby’s and all the rest of the e-punks I’ve seen in Berkeley.

It’s crazy – there are thousands in the East Bay alone, every one of them connected not to the Bodyweb, but to various peer to peer networks. In fact, there is no Bodyweb here – no Ai, and no Collective.

Before Fairview, there were millions of Pure Land Antennas wearing skin borrowed and stolen from the Collective. In the early 90s, Suspender wrote their biggest hit about them: – “3 million souls, 5 million souls. Our numbers are growing, they want control. We will be all right, if we tap into the White.” An e-punk call to arms hidden in plain sight on 7″ vinyl.

After Fairview, they were all dead, crazy, or missing. Gabby was one of those millions, a machine elf raptured into the White. Into this place.

She knew I was coming – they all did. Joey told me all about the prophesies, about insane things I still can’t understand. And now they expect me to make things right, to show them the way out.

But how can I reach the exit when I still don’t remember how I got here in the first place?

Click to continue RGA

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